It’s been a crazy couple of days in the San Francisco Bay Area.
For a group of about 170 Occupy Oakland protestors camped near City Hall, the madness began at about 5am on Tuesday the 25th, when police in riot gear began tearing down tents and forcibly removing people from Frank Ogawa Plaza, issuing at least 70 arrests in the process.
Later that day, hundreds of protestors reassembled and attempted to take the park back, only to be met by a large regional police force who fired volleys of tear gas, rubber bullets, beanbags and flash grenades. In what looked like an urban war zone, more arrests were made, several people were injured, and a young Iraq war veteran named Scott Olsen received a critical skull fracture.
The next night, partly in reaction to the overbearing force used by police, at least 1000 people convened for a general assembly meeting, from which emerged a call for a daylong, citywide strike designed to shut down Oakland. Meanwhile, on the other side of the bay, a similar number of people amassed along the Embarcadero in response to reports that the Occupy San Francisco encampment would also be torn down.
Apparently, the massive show of support prevented the eviction from happening, although a live feed that I tuned into just before midnight seemed to show police throwing sleeping bags, food, and other personal belongings into the back of a garbage truck.
Just to be clear, I received all this info in digital form, mostly via Facebook friends who braved the elements, surrendered sleep, and risked arrest and injury. But it wouldn’t be quite accurate to say that I witnessed it all from the comfort of my home, since much of what I saw made me distinctly uncomfortable. Especially disturbing was the video footage of Oakland protestors clashing with police, culminating in the now-notorious clip of Olsen, lying injured on the pavement, being helped by comrades who are then dispersed with yet another deafening flash bomb.
“WTF?!!” I thought, “Did that really just happen? What country is this? What kind of world is this?”
My disbelief turned quickly to anger at the cops. “Why are they so violent, so ruthless, so uncaring, so inhuman?” Then came cynicism: “Some of them must be henchmen of the 1%, mercenaries paid to show protestors across the nation who’s the boss.” My mind fell right into the all-too-familiar dichotomy of “us vs. them,” of peaceful protestors against Blue Meanies and their evil overlords.
But as I watched and researched a little longer, the grays became more apparent. Some of the protestors were clearly antagonizing the cops, and others were allegedly pelting them with rocks and bottles. This is not to say that the behavior of a few black-bloc types would justify an all-out assault against a largely peaceful crowd–but to say that,
…the line in my mind between good and bad began to soften and eventually fade.
What slowly came into focus was a moving picture of human beings in pain. Some were in physical agony, half paralyzed by tear gas or projectiles. Some were filled with rage, at both the imbalance of power in the situation and the system that maintains it. Many were fearful of what harm might come to them, their friends, or their allies, and some were simply doing a job they had hoped would garner admiration or at least provide some security during a time of financial uncertainty, perhaps even thinking of their families back home, their own physical and emotional ailments, or the dim prospect of a decent night’s sleep.
The more that everyone’s humanity emerged, the more that compassion welled up inside me. Through moist eyes and a soft heart, I could clearly see how all the wounds of the past were being played out in the present. I well understood that despite our deepest desire, none of us are truly free, least of all those caught in the game of power and money. I saw anew how extreme wealth indicates a poverty of spirit, of real community, of love.
I later shared these feelings and insights with my wife, a student of Indian mythology, religion and language, who reminded me of Lila, the divine play.
We are the 100 percent, performing our unique roles in some cosmic, karmic drama whose outcome and purpose lie forever beyond our understanding. In other words, we’re all in this together.
Given how much is at stake—not only our individual futures but also perhaps that of humanity at large, if not life as we know it—do we really want to keep playing the tired old game of “us against them?” Can we not take to heart the words of Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who wrote “…the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart.” The Hindu master Ramana Maharshi put it even more starkly. When asked how one ought to treat others, he replied, “There are no others.”
Call me an idealist (many have, and I take it as a compliment), but I want this movement to be different from all previous movements that have pitted the righteous against the depraved. I long for a true revolution of the heart, a love-olution in which there are no others.
As we of the 99% stand against the injustices of a dysfunctional and dying system, let us stand for profound change by embodying the respect, tolerance, patience, empathy, kindness, and other qualities we find so lacking in our supposed adversaries. Indeed, we have a precious opportunity to teach these qualities by example, by being the change we want to see in the world. Remember, the whole world is watching.
As a way into a sacred heart space, I offer a brief meditation on loving-kindness. Watch it at the peril of your cynicism.
Darrin Drda is a Bay Area artist and author whose book entitled The Four Global Truths: Awakening to the Peril and Promise of Our Times was recently published under the Evolver Editions imprint of North Atlantic Books.